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Lena Waithe says she’s a product of the stories she saw as a child.
“I watched stories about people that look like me as a young person in Chicago trying to find myself or figure out what I meant to the world. I think I only saw that by looking into a television that was sort of a reflection,” Waithe says.
I came up at a time where “A Different World” was on — “The Cosby Show,” “Family Matters” — but then I also watched old television shows like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” or “Maude,” “All In The Family,” “Good Times.” And so, I always sort of knew everything I knew about human behavior through fictitious characters. And I think that really had a huge impact on me. It was always this thing of wanting to become a master of who we are as human beings, and then try to find some sort of truth in that that everyone can relate to.”
Waithe has turned those influences into a career that Vanity Fair has called game-changing for Hollywood. After spending a few years writing, acting and gaining acclaim, Waithe rose to wider attention with the Thanksgiving episode of the Netflix series “Master of None.” The show tells a semi-autobiographical coming out story for Waithe over several years of family Thanksgivings. It won her an Emmy. She was the first black woman to win the award for comedy writing.
Next, Waithe created the Showtime series “The Chi.”
When I sat down to write it, it was really just this desire to tell a very raw and uncut and just human story about the people that live there and go to work every day and are raising kids and trying to get into heaven. I really didn’t sit down with any other intention than that. I felt like people were talking about the city or writing about it in a way that was really from a foreigner’s perspective. And being someone that obviously is from there, and that was the first home I ever knew, I just know the people and I know how salt-of-the-earth they are, how hardworking they are. I know how conflicted they can be sometimes because the city can be tough.
Joshua Johnson spoke to Waithe on stage in San Francisco as part of ComNet ’18 — a yearly conference lead by the Communications Network. It’s a peer-driven community of nonprofit communications professionals. Waithe talked about her life, her career and her plans for the future.
“I’m a person that documents the lives of people of color,” Waithe says. “So that way, when we’re gone, no one will forget we were here.”
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